Q170. Is just sitting in silence Zen meditation?

A. Just sitting in silence is not the right way to practise Zen meditation, which is not sitting in silence but focusing all of your attention on the question. The reason for starting Zen meditation with a sitting posture is that sitting is a good posture for novices to concentrate on the question. The core of Zen meditation is not whether to sit or not, but whether to keep questioning or not, and one step further, whether to solve the question or not. Just sitting without questioning, however long and well you may keep the posture, is not the right way to practise Zen. If you can keep questioning, you can be said to practice Zen meditation well, regardless of whether you are sitting, walking, drinking tea or having a chat. If only sitting down in silence is practice, how can you practise when you can’t sit down?

Just sitting down in silence might help you to calm down your illusions for a while, just like making dirty water in a bottle clean for some time by making the dirt sink through keeping the bottle still. However, our illusions arise again the moment we stop sitting in silence and face the realities of life just as the water in the bottle becomes dirty again when it is shaken. We, as a social animal, not only can’t live alone without coming to contact with others but also can’t spend the whole of our life just sitting in a silent place for a peaceful life. As long as we are alive, the realities of life will always be shaken and that is the evidence that we are alive.

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The end of Zen meditation is not to sink dirt to the bottom of the bottle but to remove all dirt from the bottle, so that the water in the bottle may still stay clean even though it is shaken. Then our mind will remain calm however roughly our life is shaken by challenges of occurrences and people around us.
©Boo Ahm

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway

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